An Open Letter to Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is a Professor at Liberty University in Virginia. ‘Booked–Literature in the Soul of Me’ is the story of her finding God (or perhaps being found by Him.)

I will say about ‘Booked’ “I liked this very much!” but may not be able to articulate exactly why. So, instead of writing a review I had the idea of typing a Letter to the Author, like my children did in Grammar School. This is what I would say:


“Dear Ms. Prior,

I want to let you know how much your writing in “Booked-Literature in the soul of me” has touched me.

I eagerly awaited its release from TSPoetry Press, looking forward to your weaving some of the great classics of literature with your walk of faith. I, too have also found solace and a saving of sorts through books, so I was interested in your story.

(I had a Mrs. Lovejoy in 8th grade as well, but her name was Mrs. Jenkins. I fell in love with language because of her.)

When I perused your book’s Table of Contents, I was delighted to see Jane Eyre and Tess of the D’urbervilles included. The other authors and selections listed I had heard of but never actually read (well, except for Charlotte’s Web—who hasn’t read Charlotte’s Web?) so I anticipated hearing your spin on them.

The great surprise to me was discovering ‘Booked’ was not about literature but about life–and sex, and marriage, and God, and romance and reality and doubt–yes, life.

(And if you’ll forgive my forwardness I was surprised, too, by the amount of wisdom and insight you possess for someone who looks, well, on the young-ish side, judging from the lovely photos I’ve seen on that ubiquitous social venue, Facebook.)

I will tell you my copy of ‘Booked’ has a multitude of pages with folded down corners, underlines and highlighted sentences and a list of notes in the back, all to remind me of phrases and subjects I wanted to remember later.

As I sat to write this letter I thought I’d ‘catalog’ some of the powerful words that spoke to me from each chapter, but it was clear there were just too many(YOU know what your book says, I needn’t remind you).

However, I was able to choose a passage from the 5th Chapter–Jane Eyre, which shows your remarkable ability of putting into words for me the power of why I choose to write.
The selection is about ‘Voice’:

“It is no coincidence that the term “voice” has come to mean in modern usage much more than just the sound made by the vocal organs, but also the means by which we make our individual selves known, not only to others but to ourselves. 
For the connection between the self and language is inseparable:
it is through language that the self becomes.”

The self becomes itself through language (the written ‘voice’) shared with others.

One more thing: should you live in a city nearby I’d gladly make the journey to whichever classroom you were in just to hear you speak about your passions. A good teacher who loves her subject can convince anyone to fall in love with wonderful, old books.

Yes, you could make a believer out of anyone, absolutely anyone.

Jody Lee Collins”
update, January 2017-Karen has also penned a powerful book on the life of Hannah More,
A British playwright, abolitionist, and philanthropist, “Fierce Convictions”


6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Karen Swallow Prior

  1. Thank you, Nancy. I really had no idea how to approach it because I tend to be so random and scattered, then I heard a little voice say, “just write a letter.”
    You could do that–truly you could.

    Didn't you just love this book? I don't think I've ever read anything quite like it.


  2. I'm so glad you wrote this in the form of a letter. I'd kind of like to, but I'm afraid I would gush way too much, or come across as some kind of creepy stalker/fan. I would love to take classes from Karen and learn to see the gospel and grace in literature the way she does.


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